Iker Casillas Must Regain Top Form in Net for Spain to Avoid World Cup Flameout

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVJune 13, 2014

Spain's goalkeeper Iker Casillas reacts during the group B World Cup soccer match between Spain and the Netherlands at the Arena Ponte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, Friday, June 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

Maybe Iker Casillas got all of his poor goalkeeping out of the way in one match. At least Spain certainly hope so, as they need the best from their longtime starting goalie to avoid a catastrophic early World Cup flameout. 

The Spanish goalkeeper was at his worst in Spain's 2014 World Cup opener against Netherlands. He conceded all five of the Netherlands' goals in a 5-1 stomping of the defending world champions on Friday in Salvador, Brazil.

It's hard to get around the fact that Casillas was facing pressure heading into Brazil. The 33-year-old struggled through bad form and injuries as of late with Real Madrid, and his gaffe in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid nearly cost his side La Decima just weeks ago.

So after Casillas committed a couple of gut-wrenching blunders that led to Netherlands goals in Friday's 5-1 rout, it wasn't surprising to see the longtime starting goalkeeper as the subject of criticism.

Among those downing Casillas for the performance was ESPN's Ian Darke, who hinted at a change in net for Spain after the loss:

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Not so fast. 

Even after one of the worst performances of his career that came at the absolute worst time, Casillas' job as the starting goalkeeper is safe, Spain head coach Vicente del Bosque told ESPN's Dermot Corrigan.

Del Bosque explained why, pointing toward a team-wide letdown:

There's a point to be made there by del Bosque. The Dutch had a whopping 10 shots on goal, only one or two of which came as a product of a Casillas gaffe. Spain's midfield was out of sorts all match long, and as the second half wore on, every Netherlands opportunity was met with a disappearing Spanish defense. Just as well, Casillas made a couple of clutch early saves. 

That doesn't disguise the fact that Casillas was horrible on Friday, but if he played like he's capable of, Spain still would have been beaten soundly. 

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Those calling for Casillas to be replaced might have a point when one looks at the net minders who are beneath him on the 23-man roster. David de Gea has been emerging as the star of the future in goal, and his improvement with Manchester United suggests his time might be now. Pepe Reina is also a more-than-serviceable goalie.

Still, if Spain are serious about defending their World Cup title, they will have to keep the experienced Casillas in goal and hope his confidence—and form—improves. 

And it better, if Spain want to make it out of Group B.

Christophe Ena/Associated Press

The group was all theirs before Friday's result, but now, it's very much in question along, with their chances of even advancing. They're already three points back of the Netherlands, and next up are Chile, who are more than capable of producing offense in bunches to test the shaky Spanish defense.

The group-stage closer against Australia shouldn't be a difficult three points, but Spain very well could be facing a sizable points gap heading into that match. 

You would have to think that Spain's starters would improve from top to bottom after an embarrassing defeat. But if Casillas comes out anything like he did on Friday, Spain will be left cleaning up more chances that come as a result of poor pursuit from their goalkeeper. This team isn't made to play from behind, and another slip-up at the wrong time could put Spain even further behind the eight ball. 

The biggest strength of Spain through the years is the avoidance of a weak link. Every part of their starting 11 is usually as strong as the next part, from the striker all the way back to the goalkeeper. 

Casillas was one of many weak links on Friday for Spain, and he is the most important link to get fixed before Spain see themselves to an embarrassing group-stage defeat. 

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